Saturday, June 05, 2010

Coach John Wooden 1910 – 2010

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

University of California at Los Angeles’ former Basketball Coach John Wooden, who was a member of the 1932 national champion Purdue Boilermakers and as a coach led UCLA to 10 national championships, passed away of natural causes. He was 99.

So What’s Wrong With This Picture?

I saw Wooden coach UCLA at the 1968 NCAA’s Western Regional Championship at University of New Mexico’s two-year old PIT in Albuquerque.

I don’t have a picture of Wooden, but I do have pictures UCLA playing New Mexico State University in the sweet sixteen game winning 58 – 49.

In the low scoring event, UCLA’s Lew Alcindor #33 Blue, above, was battling under the boards for rebounds all evening.

UNM was also in the tournament losing its first game to Santa Clara 86 – 73

The next night UCLA beat Santa Clara 87 – 66 to advance to the final four. New Mexico State beat UNM 62 – 58.

UCLA would go on to win the national championships in Los Angeles by beating the only team they lost to during the regular season, University of Houston, in the semifinal round and went to beat North Carolina in the final game. UCLA’s Alcindor was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

He got my vote also.

While sitting cross-legged on the floor at NMSU's end of the court, Alcindor, in trying to secure a rebound was pushed out of bounds, directly at me. Alcindor was seven feet tall coming down on top of me. I rolled onto my back, with my legs still crossed, pressing my camera to my chest, trying to protect it, and closed my eyes; I knew what was about to happen was going to hurt, but it didn’t. There was a collective gasp from the crowd and as I opened an eye I was nose to nose with Alcindor. He was spread-eagled over me. He pushed himself back onto his feet with his hands then stood upright. He never touched me until he reached down, offering me a hand to help me right myself.

Later in the spring, April 4 – 6, Albuquerque hosted the US Olympic Basketball Trials. Alcindor, who would later change his name to Abdul Kareem Jabbar, and several other African-American university level players, boycotted the trials. Remember 1968 was a very tense time in the civil rights era; the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tenn. on the opening day of the trials.

Note the sparse attendance in the then 16,000 capacity seat PIT. This was one of the better-attended games. Albuquerque showed it did not support world-class sports, unless a home team was involved.

The team sent to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics was considered an underdog until Yugoslavia upset the USSR. USA had beaten Yugoslavia in an earlier game and did so again in the finals. USA won all nine of their games.

Wooden, though he was the best coach in the nation for several years in a row, was not the Olympic team’s coach.

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